There’s no recipe that can’t be tweaked with a vegan substitute or two. In fact, it’s easier than you think to veganise your favourite recipe, and get creative with vegan cooking.
We've come a long way in a couple of decades. From just a few vegan ingredient substitutes on the market— usually purchased at health food shops— there is now an ever-growing number of vegan products on the market to choose from.
There are numerous non-dairy milks, vegan cheeses, egg replacers, and alternative meat start-ups cropping up seemingly every week, offering us plant-based sausages, chicken nuggets, mince, burgers and fish. This is great news for vegan cooking. But, many commonly used vegan substitutes are actually super simple and probably already in your pantry or fridge—and widely found in supermarkets— meaning it's easier than you think to get creative in the kitchen with vegan cooking.
Here are some of our regular vegan cooking go-tos.
Don’t underestimate the power of tofu. Far from being a block of tasteless mush, with the right sauces and spices (it's all in the seasoning, after all) this humble staple can be turned into scrambled eggs, quiches, BBQ skewers, bakes, dumplings, lasagne, and even creamy mousse and desserts. Choose from soft or firm tofu, silken tofu for puddings or dips, baked tofu, even smoked or marinated tofu. You can use if for pretty much everything.
There are many powdered egg substitutes on the market today, but let’s face it, when you need it most chances are you don’t have it in your pantry. So, what to do when a recipe calls for eggs? Reach for flaxseed. Ground them up (or have flax meal on hand) and mix them with water ( a ratio of 1:3 parts of water) and you have a binding ingredient that serves as a great vegan egg substitute. Oh, and they’re packed full of Omega 3’s. Chia seeds and psyllium husk used in the same way work well as egg replacer too.
Literally the water from canned (or boiled) chickpeas, this stuff is indispensable in vegan cooking and baking as an egg white replacer and can be used to make mousses, meringues and macaroons. Aqua faba has a thick, viscous texture that takes on a consistency and texture similar to egg whites when whipped. Add it to buttercream and you get a light frosting. Add it to a cocktail for a pisco or whisky sour.
There is cashew milk, almond, oat, soy, hazelnut, pea, hemp, coconut, rice and flax milks. In fact, there is a huge variety of plant-based milk (mylk? whatever you want to call it) on the market with more surfacing every year, with many fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D. Experiment with the different consistencies and flavours to discover what is suitable for the recipe at hand. Certain recipes call for certain milks. Add apple cider vinegar to soy milk and you have buttermilk. And if you want a frothy café latte, oat and almond seem to work best. It’s also easy to make your own non dairy milk at home. Check out this simple almond milk recipe.
Textured Vegetable Protein/Soy Protein
You don't have to fork out for fancy meat alternatives. Try textured vegetable protein (TVP) instead. TVP is a high-fiber, high-protein meat substitute made from soy flour. It has the texture of minced meat or pork and has almost no flavor, but easily absorbs the flavour of whatever you cook it in. It's often used as mock meat and can also be purchased already seasoned to resemble the flavour of beef, bacon, ham, chicken, and sausage. Because it's dehydrated it has a long shelf life and stores well in your pantry.
You can turn nuts into cheese (ever tried a cashew cheese?), milks, flour and even butters. You’ll be reaching for nuts in a lot of vegan cooking. Almond meal makes a great flour base for moist cakes, cashews can be used to make creams and cheese, coconut can be used in everything from curries to ice cream, and nut butters are great in smoothies, on muesli, cakes and as a spread on toast.
All hail! Seitan, often called vital wheat gluten, is made from wheat protein. It has dozens of uses—you can fry it with a batter as a chicken substitute, roast it, grill it, cook it. Just add the right seasoning. Originating in China as a source of protein for centuries, seitan is the OG of faux meat and is often found in Chinese food as a mock meat.
Coconut is another versatile ingredient that can transform a recipe. As a milk or cream coconut can be used in curries, soups, smoothies and desserts, or turned into a yoghurt. Because of coconut milk's creaminess it's perfect in vegan ice-cream and dairy-free creamer recipes. Its oil has a high burning point and is good for frying, and when it’s solid it makes a good butter substitute. Don’t like the taste? That’s okay, just choose refined coconut oil which removes the taste and odour.
Nutritional yeast, which comes in flakes, has a nutty cheesy flavour, and is a complete protein, meaning it provides all nine of the essential amino acids that your body can't make on its own. Some manufacturers fortify nutritional yeast with vitamin B-12, so check labels. Nutritional yeast can be used as a condiment, such as in topping popcorn or pasta, or as a base for cheesy sauces and dips.
This large tropical fruit native to India and Southeast Asia is often used as a meat substitute. The pieces of fruit are stringy on the inside, and when cooked, their flavour becomes neutral. Just throw on some barbecue sauce, and you've got a recipe for vegan pulled-pork, or add spices and chickpea flour to make meatballs.